Guest post by Emily Ryalls

Up until the age of 13 politics was always something I expected at the dinner table. It wasn’t till I fell seriously ill that I realised – as teenage girl accompanied by my mother – politics was sadly something I’d have to deal with in the doctor’s office as well.

We grew accustomed to the fact that, whilst our NHS is a blessing in so many ways, free healthcare wasn’t always fair healthcare. I was a chronically ill teenager who’d fallen ill incredibly suddenly, shortly after having the HPV vaccine, which sent family dynamics spiraling. Dad was working three jobs while mum assumed the role of carer. Sometimes I wonder, if my dad had been the accompanying adult, whether this would have played out as it did.

Initially the doctors ran multiple tests, however, when it proved to be more difficult to diagnose than the average teenage illness, the doctors soon lost patience. We were reduced to ‘overanxious mother, and hypochondriac teenage daughter’.

My symptoms were syncope (dismissed as fainting), chest pain and palpitations (just panic attacks), sickness (clearly signalling an eating disorder), and exhaustion (branded laziness). My paediatrician grew tired of dealing with me, and he grew especially tired of my opinionated mum. He utilised multiple resources to pacify us – although I never fully understood who he was trying to pacify, himself or me.

I was repeatedly told I needed psychiatric care, and after many refusals from both me and mum, our appointments turned very sour, so much so that eventually my paediatrician decided to separate us during the appointments. I walked into the appointment and my mum’s chair, usually beside mine, had been moved to the other end of the room, facing away from both me and the doctor.

‘Mrs Ryalls, if you’d please take a seat,’ he said, directing my mum to her new seating plan. We said nothing. It was a show of strength, not just of the patriarchal nature, but as a means of asserting his superiority as a healthcare professional. Perhaps he was so intimated by two females, who were clearly inferior to him, questioning his negligence that he couldn’t bear the sight of us both sat opposite him. We repeatedly told ourselves ‘hang in there, you’re nearly 16, we’ll be out of paediatrics before you know it.’

But the fear of rocking the boat with our doctor became stronger and stronger. I was part-time at school and still receiving no treatment other than frequent sit downs
with a psychologist, which was a complete waste of my time. What was he treating? My stubbornness as a young woman, or maybe he believed my reluctance to accept his professional opinion surely meant I was insane. I tolerated the psychologist, knowing that it would keep child protective services off my mum’s back. The antidepressants, on the other hand, I drew the line at; he was offering them out to me like sweets.

I made it through those three year with my sanity intact, god knows how, and I was ready to cut out the BS. My mum had a cardiologist lined up in Nottingham for me, and he said he was willing to see me and run a full work up, which included a heart scan, ECG and tilt table test. Much to our relief he confirmed what we suspected. He told me I had Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome, and I’d probably been suffering from this for the past three years. He explained that, when I stood up, my heart rate increased by over 30 bpm, and once I’d been standing my veins struggled to circulate the blood, resulting in pooling, which then led quickly to palpitations, chest pain and fainting, due to my heart and brain being deprived of blood and oxygen.

Doctors make mistakes sometimes just like anyone else, but there’s nothing worse than a male doctor with an inferiority complex. I wasted three years of my life being discarded by healthcare professionals, all because I was a teenage girl with a worried mother and a hard to diagnose illness.